The easiest way to have one, how long the pleasure lasts, and other amazing things every woman must know.

Ashley Mateo
May 23, 2018

It’s a no-brainer that the female orgasm is still a mystery to many men. (Should we provide them with a map to the clitoris, perhaps?) But it’s not a stretch to say that many women could also use more education when it comes to reaching climax, whether solo or with a partner.

After all, orgasms may not be biologically necessary; unlike men, women can conceive a baby without one. But they are pretty damn important when it comes to a healthy sex life. And as with most areas of sexual health, the more info you have, the more empowered you are to get what you want—and need—when it comes to crazy pleasure. With this in mind, read up on these 10 mind-blowing facts about what’s happening when you're getting your mind blown in bed.

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The clitoris has up to 8,000 nerve endings

Okay, so no one’s even actually counted. But doctors estimate that between 6,000 and 8,000 nerve endings exist in the clitoris, says Lauren Streicher, MD, associate clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University and author of Sex Rx. “What you see is just the tip of the iceberg,” says Dr. Streicher. “[The clitoris is] basically a horseshoe kind of configuration around the upper part of the vaginal opening.”

Considering how many nerves this pleasure spot has, it makes sense that women are way more likely to orgasm from clitoral stimulation. One recent study published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy found that only 18% of women orgasm from penetration alone. “That number may be as low as 10%, or at best 25% to 30%,” says Dr. Streicher. “The bottom line is that the majority of women do not have an orgasm from penetration and need clitoral stimulation.”

Multiples orgasms are no myth

A study of 800 female college graduates found that approximately 43% reported having had multiple orgasms. So exactly what is a multiple orgasm? “Some women experience long, cascading orgasms, where you continue to have strong rhythmic pelvic contractions for a long time,” says Dr. Streicher. "And then there are orgasms where you have that over-satisfied sensation which stops and then, with more stimulation, starts again.”

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But if you’re a one-and-done kind of women, don’t stress about it. “There are plenty of women who, after they have one nice big orgasm, feel a real sense of fulfillment and satisfaction and they're done. And that’s totally normal,” says Dr. Streicher.

The average orgasm lasts up to 2 minutes

There’s really no right amount of time for your orgasm to last. In fact, researchers used to think that 3 to 15 seconds was about the duration of a female orgasm. Then they found evidence that a climax could go on for 20 seconds to 2 minutes. The journal Ceskoslovenska Psychiatrie published data showing that 40% of women estimated the duration of their orgasm to be 30 to 60 seconds or even longer, and 48% of women experienced predominantly long orgasms.

The takeaway: “Some people have very short orgasms, while others can last longer,” says Dr. Streicher. “There’s a wide variety of normal.”

It takes longer for women to reach orgasm than men

It's kind of a stereotype, but there's science behind it. Way back in the 1960s, sex researchers William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson (the inspiration for Showtime’s Masters of Sex) found that it took women about 10 to 20 minutes of sex play to reach orgasm, compared to just four minutes for men. “There’s a wide range,” says Dr. Streicher. “We know that this has to do with how aroused someone is advance, and how intense the stimulation is.”

Why women tend to need more arousal and varying types of stimulation isn't clear. But it's a good argument for finding a sex-positive partner who won't rush things and will make sure you cross that finish line when your brain and body are ready.

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There’s a weird link between orgasms and headaches

Suffer from headaches? Try getting it on. Sixty percent of migraine sufferers experienced moderate or complete relief after an orgasm, according to research published by the International Headache Society.

But there are headaches that are actually caused by orgasms. “The first is bothersome but not dangerous—it’s just a general headache-y feeling that people can get during sexual activity,” says Dr. Streicher. “But then there’s the person who, at the exact same time that they have an orgasm, will have a very painful explosive headache simultaneous with orgasm.”

If that’s the case, you want to get to your doctor ASAP. She says that this kind of pain has a high correlation to subarachnoid hemorrhage, a type of stroke caused by a burst blood vessel in the brain. Yikes.

Orgasms cause parts of your brain to turn on and off

Feel like you can’t think straight when you have an orgasm? You’re not exactly wrong. “An orgasm mediates other neurotransmitters that impact other functions,” says Dr. Streicher. In fact, research at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands showed that orgasms deactivate the area in your brain that processes fear, as well as the parts that regulate your "vigilance for danger." 

They also found that your self-control and "moral reasoning" decreases in the moment of that big O. “When scientists do active MRIs during orgasm, they can see where there's heightened activity and where there's decreased activity—that's certainly very real,” says Dr. Streicher.

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Female orgasms can actually dull pain

In the same way having an orgasm changes your brain, it can also crank up your pain tolerance. In one study, women’s pain threshold during orgasm increased by 75%, and their pain detection threshold increased by 107%. Not surprisingly, this tolerance to pain has to do with feel-good endorphins and oxytocin (a bonding hormone) that are released when you orgasm. The effect will last about 10 to 20 minutes. On the other hand, men’s brains don’t release oxytocin when they orgasm. They experience a boost in pleasure, yet they don’t reap the pain-killing benefits.

Your ability to orgasm may be genetic

Your DNA could be responsible for at least a third—and maybe even 60%—of your ability to reach the big O, according to research published in the journal Biology Letters. It’s not exactly the kind of topic you want to bring up with mom, so it’s hard to determine exactly what role DNA plays. But it could be anatomical, says Dr. Streicher.

“If you look at the ability to orgasm during intercourse, we know that it correlates with the distance between the clitoris and the urethra: If your clitoris is less than 2.5 centimeters from the urethra, it’s more likely that you will orgasm during intercourse. And that's simply because of clitoral stimulation based on anatomy.”

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Almost 60% of women ejaculate when they orgasm

Recent research puts the number of women who experience female ejaculation at around 54%. But that same research found that up to 66% of women experience coital incontinence, or excreting urine at orgasm. And it’s hard to tell the difference between ejaculate and urine, says Dr. Streicher.

“With female ejaculation, what we're generally talking about is an emission of fluid from the Skene's glands, which are little glands on the side of the urethra,” she explains. “Some women do lose urine when they orgasm, but it’s very diluted so it doesn’t smell like urine. So it’s not so obvious what’s happening.”

Either way, it’s just what your body does. “One of the questions that comes up all the time with my patients is whether there’s a way to make it stop,” says Dr. Streicher. “If it's ejaculate, no. If it's urine, there are opportunities to try and decrease or eliminate incontinence. But I get a surprising number of women who tell me they want to ejaculate. How can they make that happen? I have no idea.”

Women in same-sex relationships are more likely to orgasm than women who sleep with men

Let's look at the stats. Ninety-five percent of heterosexual men reported that they usually or always orgasm during a sexual encounter, while only 65% of heterosexual women said the same thing, according to a recent study published in Archives of Sexual Behavior. 

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“You have to keep in mind the biological purpose of sex: to reproduce. A female orgasm is not required in order to conceive,” says Dr. Streicher. “But I always say the reason the clitoris is located where it is so that women can self-stimulate during intercourse to orgasm.”

Interesting, women in same-sex relationships are more likely to orgasm: 86% said they usually or always reached climax when sexually intimate. “The reason why is kind of obvious,” says Dr. Streicher. “They're not depending on intercourse to reproduce, and certainly a woman in a same-sex relationship is far more likely to know where her partner's clitoris is and what to do with it than most men. That's just the reality."